Equilibrium/Sustainability — NASA hires climate scientist for key new role

Today is Tuesday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup 

Connecting NASA’s plethora of problem solvers through the common thread of climate science will be critical to the mission of the agency’s brand new chief scientist and senior climate advisor, Kate Calvin.   

“Like many people, my introduction to NASA was through movies,” Calvin told reporters in a Tuesday morning teleconference. “I remember watching Apollo 13 years ago and being amazed at how NASA scientists work together.”    

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Calvin assumed the dual roles of NASA chief scientist and senior climate adviser on Monday — serving as principal adviser to the administrator and other NASA leaders, while representing the agency’s strategic science objectives to the national and international space communities, according to a news release from NASA. Her principal interest, she told reporters, involves “trying to connect the climate science research with the rest of the research in NASA.” 

“As someone with a background in math, computer science and engineering, I was inspired by seeing women in STEM help launch a man into orbit in Hidden Figures,” she continued. “NASA shows us what happens when you bring together a team of really smart people to explore the universe and solve problems. I'm excited to be a part of that.” 

Read more about Calvin here.

Today we'll head to California and examine $22.5 billion for climate initiatives included in Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomVirginia's Youngkin gets the DeSantis treatment from media Equilibrium/Sustainability — Solar-powered cars on the EV horizon Newsom vows crackdown: Rail car looting like 'third world country' MORE's proposed budget. Then we’ll look at how a push for companies to reveal their climate impacts is creating a market for projects that protect forests and other wildlands.  

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin 

Let’s get to it. 

Newsom allocates $22.5B to climate in budget  

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has allocated $22.5 billion to combatting the climate crisis in the $286.4 billion budget proposal that he released to the state on Monday.  

Newsom’s proposal, called the California Blueprint, contains a one-time expenditure of $22.5 billion spread over the next five years — including $6.1 billion earmarked for electric vehicle initiatives — to collectively advance the state’s climate and opportunity agenda and deliver community resilience.  

This would be a significant jump from the previous year’s budget, which included $15 billion in climate resilience investments.  

What he's saying: “Climate change is driving devastating wildfire seasons, historic droughts — the challenges seem endless,” Newsom wrote in a letter to California state legislators.  

“This is not only a spending plan for the year, it is a foundation for California’s future — a fiscally responsible plan that seeks to make our state safer and more affordable, and to set our state on a better path for years to come,” Newsom added.   

Electric vehicles: Within the $6.1 billion allocated for the electric vehicle sector is $256 million for low-income purchases of zero-emission vehicles, as well as $900 million to expand the affordable infrastructure necessary to power these vehicles, according to the Blueprint.    

Another $3.9 billion would go toward adding zero-emission short-haul trucks and transit buses, supporting school transportation programs, funding zero-emission off-road equipment and fueling infrastructure and electrifying ports.   

BILLIONS FOR THE LONG TERM

The Blueprint also allocates $9.1 billion to other climate-related transportation programs, such as advancing high-speed rail and removing transportation barriers to improve equity and keep communities connected.    

Clean energy: Another key component of the climate budget is $2 billion for a Clean Energy Investment Plan, which focuses on long-duration storage projects, green hydrogen, decarbonization of industry, offshore wind development and the adoption of energy technologies at food production facilities.  

Wildfires: Also included in the Blueprint is $648 million to support firefighters and an additional $1.2 billion — building on last year’s $1.5 billion investment — to bolster forest management and other practices that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.    

Drought: The Blueprint makes available an additional $750 million beyond last year’s $5.2 billion water package, intended as an immediate response to assist residents, farmers and wildlife that have struggled amid drought conditions.    

Other climate initiatives: The Blueprint allocates $1 billion toward sustainable housing, $415 million toward public health impacts from climate change, $465 million to expand climate-related job opportunities and more than $2 billion toward climate research in higher education and infrastructure upgrades at K-12 schools.     

Also included is a $3.7 billion investment to address the impacts of extreme heat, build coastal resilience, advance environmental justice and support nature-based climate solutions — which the Blueprint described as critical to the global effort to conserve 30 percent of natural areas by 2030. Another $1.1 billion is earmarked for developing climate-smart agricultural systems. 

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Beyond climate, there is “natural resources” and “environmental protection.” 

Funds allocated to these categories include $11.2 billion for programs overseen by California’s Natural Resources Agency — such as $757 million for a Department of Parks and Recreation initiative to make parks accessible to everyone.  

A $6 billion budget for California’s Environmental Protection Agency is earmarked for improving environmental quality, promoting environmental justice, protecting public health and cleaning up toxic waste.  

Last words: The Environmental Defense Fund described Newsom’s proposed state budget as “a demonstration of California’s climate leadership,” adding that the plans “will catalyze action beyond the state’s borders.”  

“Governor Newsom’s budget proposal is a bold step toward ensuring California makes the investments necessary to address the magnitude of the climate crisis, improve environmental equity, support a clean economy and protect public health,” Katelyn Roedner Sutter, senior manager for U.S. climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.   

To read the full story, please click here. 

SEC disclosure rules could help save forests  

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Kern County Fire Captain Bruce Wells keeps an eye on a burning tree as the wildfire burns closer to homes at night during the French Fire in the Sequoia National Forest

Whether — and to what extent — publicly traded companies should have to disclose their carbon emissions is a question under hot debate by climate finance experts, as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prepares to publish rules on the issue by the end of the month.  

But simply requiring companies to publish their emissions will lead to a boon in demand in the carbon credits that can offset them — meaning a potential flood of investment for both landscape protection and sustainable development, CEO Justin Cochrane of Carbon Streaming Corporation told Equilibrium. 

First words: “In the last nine months, we’ve seen just a tremendous corporate interest in carbon credits, and that’s partly driven by regulatory requirements at bodies like the SEC,” Cochran said. “Climate disclosure would be tremendous development for the industry — there would be a phenomenal demand for carbon credits if it came through.” 

Stealing a business model from mining: Cochrane's company, Carbon Streaming Corporation, invests up front in projects that save carbon — like $45 million to keep a peat swamp from being turned into palm oil plantations in Indonesia, or $6 million to keep a mangrove swamp from being converted into shrimp farms off the coast of Baja California. 

Every metric ton (1.10 tons) of carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere is worth a single carbon credit, which can be bought once per year. Carbon Streaming sells these credits on "spot" markets to businesses — like Delta Airlines — seeking to counter their emissions, and gives 90 percent of the money back to the project. 

"We stole the royalty and streaming model that they use in the mining and energy space,” Cochrane said. 

 

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DELETING REASONS FOR DEFORESTATION

Carbon Streaming Corp is plugged into a specific sector of the carbon market: the voluntary markets — as opposed to the mandatory markets imposed in systems like the European Union Emissions Trading System or California's Cap-and-Trade, which require companies to meet ever-decreasing emissions limits or buy carbon credits to pay the difference. 

What good is a voluntary market? 2021 brought a surge in investor interest in companies' carbon and environmental impact — and the quickest way for those companies to show progress has been to purchase credits on one of the voluntary markets.    

For U.S. companies outside California, buying carbon credits on the voluntary markets are the only way to reduce net emissions — short, that is, of cutting them from their own operations.  

That's why the SEC disclosure rules are such a big deal. Investor demand alone brought a threefold jump in the Natural Climate Solution credits Carbon Streaming Corp. sells — from just over $5 to over $15. 

If the SEC starts requiring all publicly traded companies to disclose their carbon emissions, Cochrane foresees a rush by companies looking to offset what they can't yet avoid — driving up the price of credits, and increasing the value of forests, peatlands and other natural landscapes. 

How this works, practically speaking: “Let’s say I’m McDonalds, and I have to disclose my carbon footprint,” Cochrane said. “Well, it won’t stop there. The second question will be: what are you doing about it?” 

Carbon credits provide a temporary answer to a question that the SEC is going to make it far easier to ask companies, according to Cochrane.   

“It gives you an immediate ability to say to investors, ‘We’re already carbon neutral, because we’re supporting carbon projects around the world, buying three million credits – while thinking about how to reduce carbon footprint over the next 10 years,’” he said.  

Disincentivizing deforestation: “It’s not hard to end deforestation, you just need proper incentives,” Cochrane  continued. “There are reasons for deforestation: there’s always an alternative use in mind for the land being deforested. It’s not hard to imagine stopping it — but you have to recognize there are significant pressures causing it: palm oil plantations, or agriculture, or cattle farming or new buildings.” 

Last words: “Let’s make the trees worth more standing and alive than they are dead,” Cochrane said. “And the way to make that land more valuable if those trees are left standing is to put a price on carbon.” 

Tech Tuesday

Coping with electric vehicle surges, racing for better batteries and surviving China’s semiconductor ‘wreckage’ 

States carving out billions for anticipated electric vehicle surges 

  • State governments are allocating billions of dollars to adaptation efforts amid a rising demand for electric vehicles (EVs) — as they strategize how to cope with the demand for charging stations, both at homes and public places, our colleague Reid Wilson reported for The Hill. For many states, this. Means considering how they will replace billions in gas tax revenues for the fuel that EV owners will not have to buy. 
  • “We want people to buy electric vehicles,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) told The Hill. “And if we want to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, then we have to make sure that we have the infrastructure available for people to buy electric vehicles so they can actually get the cars charged and not get stuck somewhere.” 

US in arms race for better batteries 

  • The Biden administration is joining with private industry to try to reverse China’s commanding lead in lithium-ion batteries — attempting to regain ground in an industry where China makes nearly 80 percent of the world’s lithium-ion cells, as compared to the U.S.’s 7 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported. 
  • That also means creating industrial systems where U.S. technology — which helped create those batteries in the first place — is plugged into U.S.-based supply chains. “Everyone knows what the stakes are,” longtime battery researcher Susan Babinec told the Journal, adding that as batteries become more advanced, “we’re playing to the United States’ strength. We are bad-ass scientists.” 

China’s semiconductor push generates 'wreckage'

  • An ambitious $2.3 billion dollar attempt by China's government to develop a domestic semi-conductor industry — a key industrial and security goal for the People's Republic — has met with repeated failure, with at least six major chip-building startups folding in the past six years, The Wall Street Journal reported. 
  • Two of these companies "burned through cash, yet never commercially built any chips," the Journal reported, leaving "Beijing leaders and investors .... poking through the wreckage of struggling semiconductor businesses in hopes of salvaging some parts." 

 

Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Wednesday.